Ensure a Return on Investment - Make your employees’ performance review meaningful and productive

Performance reviews are not everyone’s favourite thing to do but any self-respecting business and manager will understand its importance. Having worked in the human resource (HR) department for many years in both MNCs and SMEs, I have led many performance review process, and supporting businesses and managers through this has helped me understand why it is hard. However, with the right preparation, rigour and mindset, some businesses and managers are more successful at it than others.

So, what are some of the things you can do to make this process more productive for your business and more meaningful for your employees?


The Human Resource (HR) department needs to own this process.

Although undertaking the task of performance reviews is the manager’s job, the HR department provides the right support and training, making sure the process is seamless and does not impact the productivity of the business. If there is no HR function within the organisation, someone or some function needs to be responsible. Simply leaving it to the managers will not work.

As managers tend to experience a one sided view of an employee, and in some instances, this can be very different from other’s experiences, managers need to constantly gather feedback from key colleagues, customers or direct reports throughout the year. This helps them to obtain a 360 view of the employee’s performance prior to the review.

It is also crucial for managers to constantly revisit the goals set out for the employee at the beginning of the year. This serves as a reminder on what was agreed or changed from the original goals set. Managers should think critically about what has been achieved, what is still outstanding and where the employee excelled.

Next, managers need to consider the values of the broader organisation. What are the expectations set by the company regarding acceptable behaviours and what actions by employees have managers observed through the year that supports or detracts from those values? It is not just WHAT they do but HOW they do it.

For managers in larger organisations, where there is a matrix of reporting lines, there needs to be engagement with dotted line managers. Whilst one manager may lead the performance review and have overall responsibility for the employee, other managers need to be included in the process.

Writing the Review

It is important to have a document or system that is user-friendly, allowing both manager and employee inputs. The employee should review their year and accomplishments first, followed by the manager’s comment and overall review. This allows the employee to create ownership and awareness of their own successes, failures and developments.

Managers are also encouraged to write comments for each goal that has been completed. This includes notes on what and how it was done and the impact on the team and the organisation. They should also focus on why the accomplishment was important and use wordings that are action oriented, such as Delivered, Demonstrated, Stretched, Succeeded, Originated, and Implemented.

An overall summary should then be written by the manager. It should include the high level accomplishments, values displayed, information on promotional readiness, training nominations and development needs of the employee. This needs to be kept succinct and the grammar and spelling needs to be accurate. Managers should allow themselves enough time to write a couple of different versions and have a trusted colleague or partner read through to ensure it makes sense.

Having the Discussion

All employees should have a face-to-face discussion with their manager to review the previous year and plan for the year ahead. The HR department or another identified function needs to ensure that this is done. Depending on the size of the organisation, this could be online or manual.

Prior to having the discussion, the employee should have received a copy of the written review. Some companies manage this process through an online system while others have a paper document. Regardless of the method, the employee should have at least two days to read through and digest the information prior to the meeting. This document should also be available at the meeting.

An hour should be allowed for the discussion and the employee should be informed in advance. If managers do not have a specific office, they need to book a meeting room where they can have a private conversation. Public places like a coffee shop should be avoided as it makes the discussion seem unimportant and trivial.

Managers should start the discussion by having the employee review their year; ask them what they consider to be their key accomplishments, what did they enjoy, where did they fail and what did they learn. The manager needs to listen, ask questions and clarify what they are hearing.

In return, when the manager delivers feedback, they need to give employees a clear understanding of what they did well and their strengths. It is crucial to emphasise this again at the end of the discussion. Managers also need to calibrate their employee’s career aspirations with appropriate feedback, manage their expectations of what is possible in the next 12 months, 3 years etc.

Furthermore, managers have to ensure that the employee understands the areas of improvement in the upcoming year. Keep these to a maximum of three key areas - more and it will be difficult to make significant improvement in any area – quality versus quantity.

Whether your business or managers are new to performance reviews or an old hand, applying some of these suggestions will make the process easier and also make it more meaningful for employees. Putting in a little more time and effort upfront allows you to reap the rewards of a more productive and engaged workforce through the year.

- Sarah Schubert, Director of New Voice Communications Pte Ltd -